Deported veterans struggle to access VA services, study finds

by Vern Evans

Deported veterans face significant barriers accessing a variety of veteran-centric services, including health care benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a study by the University of California-Berkeley School of Law.

The study, released on April 8 by the Veterans Law Practicum at UC-Berkeley, noted deficiencies in two pathways that allow deported veterans to access VA programs: humanitarian parole and the VA Foreign Medical Program.

“The law promises veterans access to the benefits and care many need to survive, no matter where they are in the world,” the report states. “To breathe life into this promise, we urgently need change. Otherwise, deported veterans will continue to suffer and die in exile.”

Humanitarian parole granted by the Department of Homeland Security allows deported veterans temporary reentry to the United States to access VA health care. However, applications for humanitarian parole are often denied and the cost of travel can be “prohibitive,” according to the report.

“There are a lot of deported veterans who are not able to subsist in the countries to which they’re deported,” Eric Provost, a Navy veteran and one of the authors of the report, told Military Times. “They don’t have access to things like VA health care, which they may be entitled to. A year just isn’t enough to ensure continuity of care and that they’re getting the treatment they need.”

The VA’s Foreign Medical Program, which provides health care from non-VA providers overseas, presents another opportunity for deported veterans to receive care. However, the report noted the program only covers treatment for “disabilities previously recognized as service-connected by the VA,” and many veterans are deported before they complete the disability compensation process.

There is also the question of the program’s reach in smaller countries, Provost added. While veterans have more options to apply for the program in larger countries, such as Mexico, other veterans, such as those residing in smaller nations — Honduras or El Salvador, for example — struggle to apply, Provost said.

“All veterans have access to [VA] benefits, regardless of their immigration status,” Provost told Military Times. “The fact that they’re deported has no bearing on whether they should be getting those benefits.”

The report recommended granting humanitarian parole more liberally, expanding the Foreign Medical program to include non-service-connected conditions and not requiring upfront payment for care, among other suggestions.

Mixed policies for non-citizen vets

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows for non-citizen service members to acquire citizenship if they are “lawful permanent residents” — also known as green card holders.

However, some veterans do not apply for citizenship — or satisfy the criteria for it, according to a 2019 Government Accountability Office report. “Bureaucratic and logistical obstacles” also hinder some veterans’ abilities to file for citizenship, the report stated.

Approximately 94,000 veterans do not have U.S. citizenship, leaving them vulnerable to deportation if they violate certain laws, regardless of their service record, according to the National Immigration Forum.

Historically, policies involving the deportation of veterans have not always been closely followed.

The 2019 GAO report found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not follow its own policies on tracking cases of non-citizen veterans who may be deported. Between fiscal year 2013 and 2018, 250 veterans were under threat of deportation, and another 92 had been deported.

The GAO recommended that ICE collect and maintain complete data on veterans currently under threat of deportation, or who have already been deported.

President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed an executive order mandating government agencies to review their immigration policies and propose new changes. In July 2021, the Department of Homeland Security and the VA announced the creation of the Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative.

As of December 2023, 93 deported veterans have returned to the U.S. through the program, according to the Veterans Law Practicum report.

There are legislative opportunities, too, to solve the gaps in accessing benefits for deported veterans, researchers noted. The report’s authors specifically call for the passage of the Veteran Service Recognition Act. Some provisions in the legislation include conducting a study on the number of veterans deported from the U.S. and better equipping military procedures to naturalize service members, according to the report.

So far, lawmakers have not voted on the legislation. The bill passed the House in 2022, but did not receive a vote in the Senate. It was reintroduced by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers in July 2023, although it has yet to receive a vote in the lower chamber.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

Read the full article here

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy